Nail biting is a habit shared by between a quarter and a third of children and nearly half of teenagers.
Compulsive behaviors don’t always have negative effects on a person’s physical health, but this one definitely does. In addition to leaving the nails torn and uneven and doing damage to the nail beds, nail biting can lead to a variety of oral health complications.
Nail Biting Versus Teeth And Gums
You might think that your teeth are much tougher than your fingernails, but over time, nail biting can cause significant damage to both teeth and gums. Here are some of the biggest ways this happens:
- Erosion, chipping, and cracking: the grinding friction of teeth against nails can gradually wear the enamel away, or even cause teeth to chip or crack.
- Malocclusion and gaps: biting nails doesn’t just damage the teeth, it can also cause them to move, leading to malocclusions (problems with the bite) and gaps.
- Root resorption: possibly the scariest thing nail biting can do to teeth is cause the jaw bone to reabsorb the roots, weakening them and leaving them more vulnerable to falling out. This is an even greater risk for people with wire braces.
- Gingivitis: a lot of dirt and germs get trapped under our fingernails, and when we chew on them, that all gets transferred to our mouths, which can result in gum disease.
- Bruxism: a nail biting habit can increase a person’s risk of developing a chronic teeth-grinding habit, which comes with even more oral health problems, along with headaches and soreness.
Why Does Nail Biting Happen?
If nail biting has such unpleasant consequences, then why do so many people do it? It isn’t fully understood yet, but studies have indicated that it can be an effect of anxiety, boredom, or perfectionism. Similar repetitive behaviors include skin picking and hair pulling. Often, people may not even notice themselves doing it, and this can make it much harder to stop.
Tips To Help Break The Habit
Until more is known about nail biting and what causes it, it can be difficult to know the best things to do to break the habit, but here are a few strategies that can help:
- Trim your nails regularly so you don’t have anything to bite.
- Paint your nails with bitter-tasting polish so biting becomes associated with a nasty taste.
- Get a manicure! If your nails are pretty, you’ll be more motivated to keep them that way.
- Swap the nail biting habit with a more harmless way to fidget, like silly putty or a stress ball.
- Figure out your triggers. When you know what sets off the nail biting, you can plan ahead and do something different.
- Make stopping a gradual process. Choose one nail at a time to stop biting, and maybe cover it so you physically can’t bite it. Add more fingernails to the bite ban until there aren’t any left!
We’re Rooting For You!
The oral health of our patients is of course our highest priority, and that means we’re here to help you overcome habits that threaten your teeth and gums! If you need help kicking your habit, don’t hesitate to enlist ours!